Although persistent drought in West Africa is well documented from the instrumental record and has been primarily attributed to changing Atlantic sea surface temperatures, little is known about the length, severity, and origin of drought before the 20th century. We combined geomorphic, isotopic, and geochemical evidence from the sediments of Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana, to reconstruct natural variability in the African monsoon over the past three millennia. We find that intervals of severe drought lasting for periods ranging from decades to centuries are characteristic of the monsoon and are linked to natural variations in Atlantic temperatures. Thus the severe drought of recent decades is not anomalous in the context of the past three millennia, indicating that the monsoon is capable of longer and more severe future droughts.
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